Weaving on Opposites

Hi Madelyn,

I have trouble understanding the concept of weaving on opposites. I am clear that on four shafts, 1 & 3 and 2 & 4 are opposites, as are 1 & 4 and 2 & 3. I think. In both cases, half the shafts are down, and half are up. What happens with eight shafts? Do you always have to use half of the shafts or does opposites allow you to choose say 1 & 5 then 2 & 6 then 3 & 7 then 4 & 8 (or none of the above!)?

Many thanks,

Hi Jacqui!

The term “on opposites” is very much like most of our weaving terminology. Our names for weave structures and terms for processes were used by a particular weaver or region and many of them then were first published in some of our earliest books (Atwater’s Shuttle-Craft Book of American Handweaving, Marguerite Davison’s A Handweaver’s Pattern Book, and Mary Black’s Key to Weaving. Even if the terms didn’t really have an evident connection to what they named (summer and winter, huckaback, hopsack, crackle, and many more) they were in such common use that they have endured in our language. Some of them have do have at least some connection to what they name (color-and-weave, rose fashion and star fashion, overshot), but you’d really have to know how the process or structure works to see the connection.

On opposites was first used, as far as I can tell, to describe the threading for monk’s belt. Monk’s belt is an overshot threading on four shafts that uses only two blocks, one threaded on shafts 1-2 and the other on shafts 3-4. (Normally, on four shafts, four blocks are threaded: 1-2, 2-3, 3-4, 4-1). Once the term was used for monk’s belt, its use expanded. When four overshot blocks are threaded on eight shafts (instead of eight blocks), the threading is called “on opposites”: A = 1-2, B = 3-4, C – 5-6, D = 7-8. I’m sure there are other weave structures in which you might raise one group of shafts against another group. Peter Collingwood uses “on opposites” to describe the treadling of the pattern weft in a twill rug: 1-2 vs 3-4; 2-3 vs 4-1; 3-4 vs 1-2; 4-1 vs 2-3 (1-3 vs 2-4 is used after each of those two pairs of picks for the ground).

On the whole, the “on opposites” label refers to a pattern result that occurs from the opposition of two or more shafts or treadles. (Weaving plain weave on four shafts with 1-3 vs 2-4 doesn’t count as “on opposites.”) There are probably many more situations in our literature than I’m describing here.


If you have a weaving question we would love to hear from you! Please email Madelyn! Pictured: Summer Lace Placemats and Mug Rugs by Suzie Liles Handwoven May/June 2017.

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One Comment

  1. Judy C at 9:55 am May 24, 2017

    Thank you Jacqui for asking the very question bothering me after reading and rereading the ‘Weaving on opposites’ explanation on p. 150 of Deborah Chandler’s “Learning to Weave” (a book I’ve had for ages). She also refers to a photo of a colorful pillow, for inspriation, on p. 82 and it is lovely but I don’t have a clue how it was done…..and if I had a pattern I might be able to figure out the weaving on opposites. I sort of understand intellectually, but not practically. I just put a warp on my 8 shaft Luet, at 7epi, used Rosepath threading (pattern from Carol Strickler’s 8 Shaft Patterns) and will play with different treadlings and colors for weft faced designs. See what happens.
    And thank you Madelyn for your helpful and thoughtful answers.

    Judy C.

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